World

Alex Murdaugh gets 40 years for stealing from clients and his law firm

The disbarred lawyer is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son.

Alex Murdaugh cries as he speaks to the court during his sentencing ((Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier/AP)
Alex Murdaugh Alex Murdaugh cries as he speaks to the court during his sentencing ((Andrew J. Whitaker/The Post And Courier/AP) (Andrew J. Whitaker/AP)

For maybe the last time, Alex Murdaugh, in a prison jumpsuit instead of the suit he used to wear, shuffled into a court on Monday in the US and was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.

Murdaugh, 55, was punished, this time in federal court in South Carolina, for stealing from clients and his law firm.

The disbarred lawyer is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son.

A report by federal agents recommended a prison sentence between 17 and a half years and just under 22 years.

The 40-year sentence will be insurance on top of insurance.

Along with the life sentence, Murdaugh pleaded guilty and was ordered to spend 27 years in prison in state court on financial crime charges.

The federal sentence will run at the same time as his state prison term and he is likely to have to serve all 40 years if his murder convictions are overturned on appeal.

Alex Murdaugh is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son (Tracy Glantz/The State/AP)
Alex Murdaugh Alex Murdaugh is already serving a life sentence without parole in a state prison for killing his wife and son (Tracy Glantz/The State/AP) (Tracy Glantz/AP)

US District Judge Richard Gergel said he sentenced Murdaugh to a harsher punishment than suggested because Murdaugh stole from “the most needy, vulnerable people”, like a client who became a quadriplegic after a crash, a state trooper who was injured on the job, and a trust fund meant for children whose parents were killed in a crash.

“They placed all their problems and all their hopes on Mr Murdaugh and it is from those people he abused and stole. It is a difficult set of actions to understand,” Judge Gergel said.

The 22 federal counts are the final charges outstanding for Murdaugh, who three years ago was an established lawyer negotiating multimillion-dollar settlements in tiny Hampton County, where members of his family were elected prosecutors and ran the area’s premier law firm for nearly a century.

Murdaugh will also have to pay nearly nine million dollars (£7 million) in compensation.

Prosecutors are asking for a harsher sentence because FBI agents think he is not telling the whole truth about what happened to six million dollars (£4.7 millions) he stole and whether a so-far unnamed lawyer helped his criminal schemes.

Murdaugh’s largest scheme involved the sons of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

She died in a fall at the family home. Murdaugh promised to take care of Ms Satterfield’s family, then worked with a lawyer friend who pleaded guilty to a scheme to steal four million dollars (£3 million) in a wrongful death settlement with the family’s insurer.

In all, Murdaugh took settlement money from or inflated fees or expenses for more than two dozen clients. Prosecutors said the FBI found 11 more victims than the state investigation found.

Murdaugh again apologised to his victims at his sentencing on Monday, saying he felt “guilt, sorrow, shame, embarrassment, humiliation”.

Just as at his state sentencing, Murdaugh offered to meet whis victims so they can say what they want to say and “more closely inspect my sincerity”.

“There’s not enough time and I don’t possess a sufficient vocabulary to adequately portray to you in words the magnitude of how I feel about the things I did,” Murdaugh said.

Murdaugh blamed nearly two decades of addiction to opioids for his crimes and said he was proud he has been clean for 937 days.

Judge Gergel scoffed at him blaming drugs.

“No truly impaired person could pull off these complex transactions,” the judge said of the maze of fake accounts, juggled cheques and money passed from one place to another to hide the thefts for nearly 20 years.

Murdaugh was convicted a year ago of killing his younger son Paul with a shotgun and his wife, Maggie, with a rifle.

While he has pleaded guilty to dozens of financial crimes, he adamantly denies he killed them and gave evidence in his own defence. There will be years of appeals in the murder cases.

The case has captivated true crime fans, spawning dozens of podcast episodes and thousands of social media posts. It continued its odd twists in the days before Monday’s sentencing hearing.

Lawyers for Murdaugh said an FBI agent who conducted a polygraph test asked Murdaugh if he could keep a secret, then confided he had just examined notorious Dutch killer Joran van der Sloot.

Murdaugh failed that polygraph test, according to prosecutors who want a harsher sentence.

Each of the 22 counts to which Murdaugh pleaded guilty in federal court carried a minimum of 20 years in prison. Some carry a 30-year maximum.

The defence said the alleged odd behaviour and unusual questions from a FBI agent caused Murdaugh to fail the test.

Prosecutors want to keep many of the FBI statements secret, saying they are still investigating the missing money and who might have helped Murdaugh to steal it.

They say making the information public would jeopardise an ongoing grand jury investigation.